Steps For Unlocking From Covid

Last week the government announced a plan for ‘unlocking’ as a nation following Covid. The plan consists of four steps taken at five-week intervals. On Sunday morning I talked about what this could mean for our Sunday meetings as a church, and below is another brief summary. This is an exciting time now with the end of restrictions perhaps in sight, though there could be some delays and changes. If all goes as planned, we might be holding full Sunday meetings, in person, this side of the summer.

Some Guiding Principles

To guide our thinking and planning as a church, we will follow three guiding principles:

  1. We will follow both the guidance, and the spirit of the guidance. Let’s remember that what’s permissible and what’s beneficial are not always the same. Technically we’re allowed to run in person meetings right now, but they’re heavily restricted and almost unrecognisable from how we would want to meet.
  2. We will keep an eye on how people in our church are feeling. We need to stay alert to how ready people are to attend meetings in person and also on how ready we are as a church to run them. The vaccine rollout seems to be going well in the UK, but many in our church are still waiting and may feel vulnerable.
  3. The pace does not need to be the same for every activity. We are not going to pressure ourselves to restart everything at once, especially in light of our Welcome Church Recovery Plan, built around the principles of Renew, Refresh, Rebuild. Some ministries may not restart until the autumn, and others may never restart.

The government plan consists of four steps, and we will make changes as a church in line with each of these steps:

Step 1 (March 8th & 29th)

Children go back to school from March 8th. During this stage we will continue our meetings online as a church, and will be working in the background to get our worship team up and running again with live worship.

From March 29th outdoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, not just in parks but also in gardens. Once this happens Life Groups may want to take the opportunity for groups of 6 people to get together outdoors.

Step 2 (Earliest April 12th)

At this stage of unlocking we’ll see hair dressers return (hooray!) and non-essential retailers opening too. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools will also reopen, albeit with restrictions. In line with this step we intend to start an in person Sunday meeting. People will have a chance to book to attend each week and details will follow.

We don’t yet know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point. We still expect numbers and activities will be very limited and most people will be watching online. Those who attend in person at that time will probably simply be present as we do the live stream.

Step 3 (Earliest May 17th)

At this point indoor gatherings of up to six people (or two households if this is larger) are allowed, which is great news for our Life Groups. Most indoor venues will re-open and groups of 30 can also meet outdoors.

At this step we hope to significantly enlarge the number who can attend on a Sunday. Many more of us will also have had the privilege of a vaccine by then too, so we may well see things really starting to open up. Again, we don’t know what restrictions will be in place for church meetings at this point, but we hope to see these easing and will make the most of whatever opportunities the regulations afford.

Step 4 (Earliest June 21st)

At this step legal limits will be removed on mixing and everything can reopen. Large events are allowed take place again too. There are likely to be changes to social distancing measures at this step, but details are still to be confirmed.

At this step we hope to return to more normal meetings and would want to restart kids work if we can. We will also need to reconsider what happens with our live stream.

Welcome Youth

At present Welcome Youth are having a great time online in small groups working through the NUA Film series. They will continue online for the remainder of this term, allowing our youth to re-adjust to school life without being overburdened with change. We want to ensure both the safety of our youth and the quality of their time together, so we plan to return to ‘in person’ youth meetings on Fridays in the summer term, all done under the guidelines in place at the time.

Remember: all of this is subject to change!

We plan to take our steps as a church in line with the four national unlocking steps. Each of these steps has a ‘no earlier than’ date and each will only go ahead after an official review. If one step is delayed they will all be delayed, and that could delay us too. We appreciate people being really flexible. Let’s all be praying that there are no delays.

What Might Unlocking Mean For Welcome Church?

On Monday the government announced a “Four Step” process for unlocking as a nation following the pandemic. This Sunday morning at Welcome Church Online I’m going to be sharing news about how these steps affect us as a church, and about the principles behind our plans for returning to in person meetings.

Each week we go live at 9.45, and this information will be shared at some point before 10. Make sure you don’t miss it!

Recovery Plan – Part 3: Renew, Refresh, Rebuild

This week I’m blogging about our Welcome Church Recovery Plan for 2021, following the pandemic. This post is Part 3 of a short series. If you missed the other posts, please read those first. You can find the first one by clicking here.

Although we’re currently in another lockdown, we’re expecting to go through a gradual process of returning to normal life this year as more and more people are vaccinated.

In Part 1 of this short series I talked about how, as we return to normal life again, our return to church life needs to feel like coming home, and not be done in a way that places unrealistic demands on people.

In part 2 I talked about some key challenges we face and about how this year we need to ask not “What CAN we do?”, but “What SHOULD we do?” I also talked about how, following the challenges of the pandemic, being together in person as a church is going to be more important than ever.

So how are we going to approach this year?

As a team we’ve prayerfully put together our Welcome Church Recovery Plan. The plan isn’t a schedule of activities or a list of SMART goals for the year; it’s a description of the ethos we want to adopt this year as a church; the sort of culture we want to build. The plan is built around three ‘R’s – Renew, Refresh, Rebuild.

The three ‘R’s’ will form the back-bone of our year, and will underpin and give shape to our pastoring, our planning, our preaching and our programmes. Let’s look at them one at a time:

Renew: a focus on relationship/people, including …

  • Renewal of a vibrant and meaningful relationship with Jesus
  • Renewal of our sense of ‘sonship/daughterhood’ before our Heavenly Father
  • Renewal of our emotional health and well being
  • Renewal of a Biblical pattern of church life together (see Acts 2v42-47)
  • Renewal of friendship, of fun and of a sense of adventure together

Refresh: a focus on our vision/strategy, including …

  • Refreshing our understanding of God’s plans and purposes for His church
  • Refreshing our vision and mission as Welcome Church
  • Refreshing our “rhythms of life” as a church; what we do weekly, termly and annually
  • Refreshing our approach to “whole life discipleship”
  • Refreshing our individual, God given sense of purpose and calling

Rebuild: a focus on tasks/doing, including …

  • Rebuilding our Holy Spirit filled, leadership faith for the mission
  • Rebuilding our Welcome Church staff team to full strength, in every way
  • Rebuilding our core meetings and ministries
  • Rebuilding our ministry teams and serving roles
  • Rebuilding our presence in the community

To put it in a sentence:

“In 2021, as we unlock, we will aim to RENEW our relationships with God and with one another, to REFRESH our vision and our strategy, and to REBUILD our core church ministries and our faith for the mission”

This will help us achieve a fourth ‘R’: RECOVERY

This is a recovery plan to help us recover from the challenges of the pandemic and find fresh faith and momentum for the future. The goal is that Jesus is glorified in us and that the Great Commission moves ahead through us as we step out in faith. God has big plans for our church in the years ahead, so let’s get ready.

Tomorrow in the final part of this short series I will consider some of the questions our plan raises and some of the implications of it.

Staff Change, Unlocking & Compassion

This Sunday we have our Welcome Church online Communion meeting, and everyone is welcome to join us. It starts at 6.30pm and all the information is in the picture below.

The communion part of the evening will run until 7.15pm, and will be followed by a short time of updates and information, finishing before 8pm.

communion 2

The communion will be led through by Tim Robertson from Compassion UK and will include updates on the projects we’ve supported in Togo. Please provide your own bread and wine (or suitable alternatives) and join us with all the family on zoom.

When Communion finishes I will share the latest news and updates for Welcome Church. This will finish by 8pm and will include:

  • Details about unlocking and how it affects our Sunday meetings going forwards
  • An exciting new staff change that will really bless our church

See you there!

And don’t forget to join us for Welcome Church online each Sunday at 9am and 11am, with kids work at 10am.

Moving Out Of Lockdown???

I love our church and I can’t wait to meet together in person again. I miss seeing people and I miss our corporate times of worship and ministry. Although we have a great online church, this time of Lockdown is not something I’m enjoying at all.

Yesterday announcements were made about the lifting of some of the aspects of Lockdown from Saturday July 4th, and part of this related to church. Naturally some people are getting excited and have even asked when we plan to start meeting again on Sundays in person.

Let me say that, although I love the enthusiasm and I share it, we must remember when announcements are made that we only get headlines; the full guidance follows in long documents. All churches are unique and need to individually assess what is safe in accordance with the guidance to be issued and our own context. The manner and timing of ‘re-opening’ will undoubtedly vary a lot from church to church.

The latest updates are a mixed bag, and during our online communion on July 5th we will bring you fully up to date with our plans as they stand.

communion 2

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts to keep you going for now:

Weddings are allowed again from July 4th … sort of

To get legally married people need to first declare their intent to marry a month in advance at the register office and then bring us their ‘blue form’ (this has always been the case – nothing new here). Sadly the register office is not yet open, so you can see the problem.

Weddings will need to follow Covid-19 Secure guidelines which mean that up to a maximum of 30 people can attend, all at a social distance. No singing is allowed so there will be no worship band. There will also be no food, no drinks and no party. Every surface will need to be cleaned afterwards. The toilets would probably have to operate a “1 in 1 out” system to avoid people coming into close contact.

In short, it’s mixed news and not straightforward. Despite these restrictions we look forward to seeing people legally married soon, especially James and Hannah, who’s plans have been delayed.

What about other meetings?

Meetings of up to 30 people will be allowed from July 4th … but only as long they follow the Covid-19 Secure guidelines. This means social distancing must be in place. It also means no singing, no handshakes, no hugging, and that all interactions with anyone you do not share a household with must be minimised. The points that apply to weddings also apply here (apart from needing a blue form 🙂)

In reality there are a lot more aspects to the guidelines as well, and we are probably still some way away from meeting together in person as a church for anything like a full Sunday meeting. I know this is frustrating and disappointing but remember:

Church is about more than our Sunday meetings; we are a family together

We are still the church even without being able to meet in our building.

So since two households are now allowed to get together indoors, you could take advantage of that to see people from church. You could even do it on a Sunday morning and enjoy online church together, but do bear in mind that you are still supposed to be socially distant, and you are not supposed to prepare food together or share utensils … and you shouldn’t really sing.

On days with good weather you can meet with up to five other people outside, and Life Groups could start to take advantage of this, but please remember that the same rules apply!

So how will we formulate our plans going forward?

Beyond  the official guidelines, here are some key factors we need to consider:

1. The quality of what we do

When we start Sunday meetings in person again, whatever size they are and whatever form they take, the total experience needs to at least be as good as we get online. Thirty people wearing face masks, keeping away from each other and not allowed to sing does not tick that box for us! It would also not bless those involved or help us reach new people at all.

In the mean time we are always looking at Sundays online to see how they can continue to be improved.

2. Children and youth

This is a huge factor for us as a church because we love our kids and youth and there are a lot of them! Before we do anything we need to know that our children’s work can be delivered in a way that the children will safely enjoy, that parents and leaders will be confident in, and which will comply with all the relevant guidelines.

3. Worship

One of the main reasons we come together is to join together in an act of worship to God, and at the heart of this is our sung worship time. If singing is not allowed we may decide that we are better off staying as we are for a while longer.

We do want to be on the front foot with this, but being on the front foot isn’t the same as rushing back to what we had before. Instead it means listening to and embracing what God is doing at every step of the way, remembering that God’s people have been in various types of “Lockdown”, many times before … like Jonah, Daniel, Paul, Noah, Joseph and the whole nation of Israel at times too. God is in control of all our days. Let’s be patient.

In the meantime online church continues, so does online Alpha, prayer, kids work, youth work and Life Groups and more, and please remember: the Holy Spirit is not confused by Zoom or by the internet! God can still work in us and through us, and we can still meet with him.

In short, we are not in a rush to make changes, but neither do we want to delay unnecessarily.  We will take all of these factors into account and make decisions in ways that are faith filled, sensible, legal, practical and will help us move forward together best as a church.

Please pray that God gives us great wisdom

For now, please put Sunday July 5th in your diary

That evening, at 6.30pm, we will have online communion together, led by my friend Tim Robertson from Compassion UK. This will be followed by a time of sharing updates and information from Welcome Church.

These updates will include the latest information relating to coming out of Lockdown, and also the details of an exciting staff change, and it will all be over by 8pm.

Don’t miss it!

But please know this: I do miss all of you.